Welcome to Russia! When considering global fly fishing destinations, perhaps none is more revered than Kamchatka. A trip to this volcano-strewn peninsula, home to giant rainbows, char and salmon, is undoubtedly on most anglers’ bucket list. Given the remote nature of the trip, making proper decisions regarding your gear is paramount. While these recommendations are based on our 6-day float on the Savan River, a remote spring fed ribbon in the southwest part of Kamchatka, most gear choices will cross over to other rivers of the region. I’ve asked some friends to contribute to this article, including two of our most loyal customers and veteran guide Frank Smethurst, whose Russian foray spanned 7 weeks and 6 rivers.
The organization and gear selection begins as you exit the house and head to the airport. Wear clothing, shoes, hat and sunglasses that will be useful while fishing in the magically green and waterlogged landscape. Everything you will need for the entirety of the trip will have to fit into a large waterproof duffel and a waterproof day pack. Normally for these gear guides, we would start out with the fun and flashy items such as fly rods and reels, but this is a different kind of adventure. On many trips in Kamchatka, you will be in the elements all day, every day. Your morning will usually consist of waking up in a tent with the ubiquitous pitter patter of rain welcoming you to the unparalleled fishing opportunities that await you, followed by a long day of wading and casting through the mist. It is wet in Kamchatka.
Wading and rain gear
I heard it said this way before leaving for our trip, “You put your waders on when the helicopter lands and you take them off when the chopper picks you up.” A bit of hyperbole for sure — we did experience sunny respites for a day or two — that being said, the quality and comfort of your waders, wading boots and rain jacket will be a determining factor in having an enjoyable experience no matter what Mother Nature throws your way.
Given the fact you will be spending 14 hours a day in waders, I would highly suggest a zippered version of whichever product you choose. Sixteen ounce beers and the long and damp morning coffee sessions produce an environment that will require shedding many layers every time nature calls. Zippers save time and effort. A solid and comfortable pair of wading boots are equally important given the amount of time and miles you will spend in them. Make sure to break in your boots prior to your trip so you don’t run the risk of suffering from blisters or sore feet. Vibram soles are the ticket as most of the river bottoms are gravelly and clean, not to mention the fact that studs are not friendly on rafts. It goes without saying that a fully waterproof rain jacket is a must. Layering with Capilene and quick drying underlayers will do the job as temperatures range from the high 40’s to mid 60’s.
Both of these waders are fantastic, really depends on fit and feel for the individual angler.
Given the environment of rain in concert with a raft trip, your choice in duffels, day packs and fishing packs is of the utmost importance. We certainly had some issues on our particular trip, with a number of our duffels failing after only one day. Unloading your duffel from the raft to find it filled with a couple of inches of water is a terrible feeling. My recommendations in this category are unwavering. In my opinion, Fishpond produces the most durable, useful and waterproof bags and packs in the industry.
Duffels and packs
The combination of these three Fishpond offerings will cover your fishing requirements and serve as your mobile home for the trip. The backpack is a great carry on and a perfect answer for the gear needed for each day while on the raft or wade fishing. The lumbar pack is comfortable and fully waterproof, allowing easy entry while keeping your streamers and furry mice dry and happy. The large duffel has the capacity to allow for everything needed for a week-long float. You can fit a sleeping bag, 4-piece rods, many layers, extra shoes, snacks and anything else you may choose to take with you, confident in the fact it will stay dry for the entirety of your trip.
Now to the reason you have made it this far. What fly rod or rods should I take to Kamchatka? First, a little bit about the fishing. If you mention the name Kamchatka when in earshot of a fellow fly angler, inevitably the conversation will turn to mice, and for good reason. Mouse fishing is quite possibly the most entertaining and exciting version of our sport and the rainbow trout (and Dolly Varden) that live on this peninsula cannot help themselves when enticed with a scurrying rodent. These same fish and the numerous species of salmon that run up these rivers, depending on the time of year, will happily eat just about any large streamer swung in front of them. One thing I was not prepared for was seeing 20-24″ rainbows sitting in a foamy seam line sipping small dry flies. I could not have been more excited. What does all of this equate to when choosing your quiver of fly rods?
Prototypical Kamchatka fly rods
Scott Centric 907/4: This is a tremendous fly rod that can handle large streamers and mice while retaining its response and feel. A fighting butt is a necessity given countless battles with large rainbows and char. I would recommend taking fly rods built on a freshwater platform, allowing for large downstream mends before skittering mice perpendicular to banks and log jams. Saltwater-style rods may mend and roll cast better if overlined. Other outstanding 7-weights include the Sage X 790-4 and G.Loomis Asquith 790-4.
Scott Centric 956/4: Why a 9′ 6″ rod? These longer fly rods are both great casters and perfectly built for the mousing aficionado, increasing the angler’s ability to keep a higher angle while swimming a mouse. The Sage X 697-4 is an excellent choice, as well.
Sage Igniter 691/4: This is an incredibly powerful fly rod that will provide a no-nonsense option for casting streamers all day with ample fighting power once hooked up. Comparable rods include the Scott Centric 690-4 FB, G.Loomis Asquith 690-4, NRX+ 690-4 and Winston Alpha+ 9’ 6-wt (with Wells grip and fighting butt).
Scott GS 905/4: Well, this takes us back to sippers and seam lines. I feel it is worth taking a smooth, medium action 5-wt for those opportunities when you find sipping or free rising trout. We were catching fish on size #16 Parachute Adams, size #12 PMX’s and other fairly small attractors. It was really enjoyable throwing a moderate action western trout rod while targeting these behemoths. The Winston Air 2 9’ 5-weight, Sage Trout LL 590-4, Asquith 590-4 and NRX+ 590-4 LP and Scott Centric 905-4 would all be wonderful rods in the moment.
Durability and drag are the most important factors when determining which reels to take on this trip. You are far from home and this is not a scenario where the guides have extra rods, reels, flies, tippet etc. Here are my top 5 recommendations.
These fish will eat a wide assortment of streamers and mice but be aware of hook size when tying or purchasing flies for your trip. In an effort to reduce fish mortality, many guides and outfitters require flies no larger than a #4 gap hook, no long shank hooks and that mice are tied with upward facing hooks. The two most popular mouse patterns are the Morrish Mouse and Mr. Hankey, with my hands down favorite being ol’ Mr. Hankey. This fly is easy to cast by mouse standards and creates a great V wake in the water. When choosing to fish streamers, most anything will do. Dali Lamas, Sex Dungeons, sculpins, Double Bunnies and Clouser Minnows are all really effective. For those sipping and free rising fish, I would have an assortment of Parachute Adams, Parachute Caddis and a few attractors such as PMX’s in sizes ranging from #10-16.
Tippet and leaders
This is the simple part of the packing project. These fish are not leader shy, to say the least. I would bring a few spools of 10lb, 15lb and 20lb tippet, and tapered leaders in 1x, 2x and 3x. The most common rigging method is 6 feet of straight 15lb or 20lb mono but on calm days you may want to rig a bit lighter and longer.
- Insect repellent
- Mosquito head net. While the mosquitoes are not too bad when on the water fishing, they swarm en masse as soon as you get on the bank, camp etc.
- Sunscreen: You hope you need it!
- Cell phone power stick: You will generally have no cell service but nice to keep a charge if using phone for photos/video.
- Small Pelican case: Necessary if taking a quality camera
- Medication: Any prescribed medicine in addition to Ibuprofen, Benadryl and perhaps a small personal first aid kit
- Copies of passport
- Water bottle
- Polarized sunglasses: 2 pairs
- Backup Gear: I would take a minimum of 3 fly rods and reels. We had a broken rod (and hand) within 12 hours of arrival.
The Kamchatka Peninsula and the rivers that flow through it are truly remarkable. While I have been fortunate to fish all over the world, this was by far the finest fishing trip I have encountered. The seclusion, scenery, grizzly bears, wonderful people and the fishing opportunities create a once in a lifetime experience. – Troy
Marshall Boyd and Scott Kleberg (Fort Worth, TX)
Marshall: I don’t sleep well in my own bed, much less in a tent in the Russian wilderness. My lightweight Helinox cot sets up in minutes and packs down to a manageable size in the boat. It’s way more comfortable than a pad on the ground.
A bottle of Tapatio or other hot sauce comes in very handy. The Russian food was just fine, but lacked a bit of zip.
I won’t mention the brand name of waterproof duffle I took, but I would definitely invest in a tougher one next time. The straps get yanked and lashed down, and bags themselves get abused. Mine didn’t survive. Invest in a tough one.
Scott: This was hands down the best freshwater fishing trip I’ve ever been on. I caught several rainbow trout over 25” and one 27.5 incher, the fish of a lifetime. Great bunch of friends, guides and Russian bear warriors. Unbelievable scenery. Never saw another human (but many bears) the entire time we were on the water. What a trip!
My three favorite pieces of gear
- Scott Radian 6 wt rod with fighting butt
- GSI JavaPress portable insulated French press
- Simms G4 Pro Waders
What I wish I had taken
- A better waterproof bag.
- Simms G3 Vibram wading boots.
- Less beer and more wine!
Frank Smethurst’s dime on fishing the famous Russian peninsula
Some amazing facts: Russia is eleven time zones wide, sea run khundza are found sprinkled into only a few rivers in Kamchatka, Russian helicopters look sketchy af, but are remarkably safe. Also, Russian bears tend to be much more fearful of people than American bears.
My life fundamentally changed when I went to the Russian far east to fish in Kamchatka. The fishing was so good, so amazing actually, that it is difficult to retell the stories to other fishermen more accustomed to fishing here in the States. Even seasoned Alaska guides and anglers have a hard time comprehending what Kamchatka delivers daily.
I won’t try to tell you how good it is for the above reasons, but let me at least try to prepare you for a trip over there.
First, I packed ten times too much stuff, but was dialed for anything that showed up on that taiga. If a marlin had swum in from the Sea of Okhosk, I would have been ready for him. What I really learned was what rods were essential, as I ended up lugging all the cases and only used three rods the entire trip. Over 7 weeks, I fished the following rivers: Tigil, Turusheva, Pirozhnikova, Savon, Sedanka, and last but best, the Zhupanova.
RODS: The rods that I ended up using throughout the trip were as follows: a saltwater 906 with a fighting butt, a saltwater 907 with a sink tip, and a twelve-foot six-weight Spey rod.
Scott Saltwater 906 The Mouse Rod: Back then, this rod was an S4s 906, but it is now a Sector 906. I used this with a floating Airflo WF7F Bass Bug taper fly line. Note that I did overload the rod by one line size and this was really helpful in launching so many of these air resistant flies such as mice and streamers. Though I had all different fly lines, I found that Airflo lines [polyurethane] are nice for over there because you use a lot of Deet bug spray, and this deteriorates other [PVC] fly lines rapidly. The leader on this mouse rod was typically a stoutish bonefish or steelheadlLeader tapering down to about 12 lb test.
Scott Saltwater 907 The Swimming Baitfish (Streamer) Rod. We fished, particularly on the Zhupanova, the Whitlock Swimming Baitfish streamer with terrific results. Mike Michalak, the owner of the Fly Shop and experienced Kamchatka angler, tied on this fly with a sink tip in the headwaters of the Zhupanova float and never took it off until trip’s end, and he caught more fish over 26 inches than anyone. A 200 or 250 grain ten foot sink tip on this seven weight is about perfect. Many times as you float down the river, you throw the mouse from the front of the boat and then back the mouse up with the sink tip and streamer.
Light Spey or Switch Rod. Particularly if you are going to Russia, or for that matter Alaska, you want to bring a Switch or Spey setup. I like a five or six-weight two hander, and if you aren’t very familiar with them, your Russia or Alaska trip is the perfect time and place to learn. It’s still a fly rod, so you can learn it quickly, and it will really and truly help you catch more fish on that trip and most other trips you take, too. On my two-hander, I ran both Scandi and Skagit setups, and I found that the Skagit line with a few different sinking to floating tips was actually the best setup. Particularly when the river widened and we were searching for scattered fish that weren’t eating the mouse, this rig really paid the bills. The first two of three super khundzas that I caught were on the two hander.
Flies: Whitlock’s Swimming Baitfish, Black string leech, Mr. Hankey mouse, Hemorrhoidal Mouse, Morrish Mouse, #8-12 Adams Parachute
Hook Sizing. Of real importance here, whichever fly you choose, is that you understand the paramount need for your hooks to not be bigger than a #4 and to all be completely barbless. Double check with your outfitter as this rule may become even more restrictive. Make sure that you heed this as your guides will check and only allow you to fish with these smaller hooks for the treasured and at times aged rainbows and khundza. What this also means is that off-the-shelf flies that you buy are potentially NOT usable because they aren’t “true barbless.” This rule is enforced inconsistently, but you may need to order or tie special flies to be sure. I recommend that you inquire with your outfitter.
Other Species: There were not only rainbows and khundza wherever we fished, but also Arctic char, dolly varden and plentiful salmon of differing species. Kings, Sockeye and Chums are all numerous in the rivers depending on the timing of the trip. Of particular note is the colorful Cherry Salmon. Kamchatka is one of the best places in the world to catch this rarest and smallest of the Pacific Salmon. When I was there, I caught several, and my friend caught a six pounder on a black and purple Leech. Turns out that was kind of a record size Cherry Salmon, but he thought it was a Chum and we ate it. It was delicious, but it attracted bears.
Other Things: Bring Marlboro Red cigarettes for your guides, and lots of them. Bring also Bourbon such as Jack Daniels, or better. Trust me, if you bring Vodka, it’s like bringing sand to the beach. Russian coffee is actually terrible, so if you like good coffee, bring some or wish that you had. Russians drink mostly tea and it’s delicious, so plan on drinking some of that, too. You will grow to love, and I mean love, borscht.
Chocolate is another treat that they don’t seem to have very often out in camp and these little touches can make a slightly dour Russian guide become something not quite warm and fuzzy. Guides can be pretty transactional. If you hit them with some thoughtful treats, your fishing will likely elevate. Careful about the booze on the boat however…………. Do not, I repeat, do not bring weed. The Russians all hate the idea. It’s a huge no-no and Gulag time will follow.
…and finally, for those who haven’t watched a fishing film since the GW Bush administration…we never get tired of Eastern Rises.